I'd like to see a list of MMOs with small development teams in order to better understand where small teams have found a place for themselves.

While examples of MMORPGs are of interest, so are games focusing on socializing, trade and commerce, city or empire building, crafting, exploration, strategy and so on. Any shipping game supporting between, say 800 and 10,000 simultaneous players belongs on this list.

closed as too broad by Josh Oct 24 '14 at 17:41

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  • also - if anybody can think of more appropriate tags, please do apply them. – Aliud Alius Dec 3 '10 at 2:06
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    -1 because the question is simply too vague. With no genre or platform or type of MMO preferred, as coderanger said, team sizes range from literally the largest in the industry to the smallest in the industry. "What team size is usual for a game like X?" is a more useful question (although still not very interesting IMO). – user744 Dec 3 '10 at 12:39
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    -1 from me for the same reason. If edited to have a smaller scope, I'd remove my vote. – Kylotan Dec 3 '10 at 15:44
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    My suggestion is to remove the old question and put in its place a revised question to ask for a list of high quality, shipping MMOs with small teams to get a better understanding of what the end result of scoping small actually looks like. I think people would be put off less by a question like that. – Tetrad Dec 3 '10 at 19:00
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    What do you consider (in terms of number of total developers) a "small" team to be? – Josh Jan 4 '12 at 16:58

10 Answers 10

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You might have already seen my answer to Why are MMOs hard?, but it has a list of several games that were developed by 1-2 people. The major disagreement some people had with them, is whether some of them qualify as MMOs. However, at least one of them has over a thousand players (A Tale in the Desert), which certainly qualifies as "massive". :)

  • Ah yes, I haven't seen that question. Thanks. – Aliud Alius Dec 3 '10 at 16:43
  • And just to put that in perspective, Tale has been >=beta for 10 years now. I can't actually think of another large-scale MMO that has been going that long. – coderanger Dec 3 '10 at 17:54
  • UO's still around, going over 13 years now. – user744 Dec 3 '10 at 18:16
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    UO is still in business? Wow... And the OP mentioned in a comment that he meant all kinds of games, from "MUDs to Warcraft" - I wouldn't be surprised if there are some MUDs out there that have also run for decades... – Cyclops Dec 3 '10 at 18:39
  • @coderanger, RuneScape is 11 years old. However, it's a long time since the team working on it was small. – Peter Taylor Jan 4 '12 at 19:12

The minimum number of people required to make an MMO is one, as demonstrated by LOVE, a released MMO developed entirely by Eskil Steenberg. To see LOVE in action, check out this youtube video.

  • Wow, beautiful. I applaud you, Eskil Steenberg. Thanks Ari for pointing me to this. – Aliud Alius Dec 3 '10 at 17:29
  • Isn't that first bit kind of obvious? Or when are we going to start seeing games developed by themselves and 0 people? ;) – The Communist Duck Dec 4 '10 at 17:11
  • @Duck: Funny, I was just reading through eis-blog.ucsc.edu/2010/12/… earlier today... – user744 Dec 4 '10 at 17:42

Gods and Idols was developed by one person (Full disclosure: me) and has been in open beta since early 2008. http://www.GodsAndIdols.com

  • Hey nice. +1 when I'm able. – Aliud Alius Dec 3 '10 at 17:13


I have not played this myself, and I don't know if there is a restriction on number of players which might be too low for "massive multiplayer".

Minecraft was developed for about a week before its public release on May 17, 2009 on the TIGSource forums, where it gained a considerable level of popularity. It has been continually updated and patched since then



Stendhal is a 2D RPG which has been developed by about 5 people in their spare time. (I am one of them). The first version was released after 3 month spare time by one developer. But it was rather basic back then and more a prove of concept than a playable game. After about 6 month to one year it was fully playable and quite fun. Nowadays it is under heavy development and patches are released regularly.

You can have a look at our release history (click "Read all the news items" at the bottom). It nicely shows how the game was improved from patch to patch since 2005. 5 years may seem like a really huge amount of time, but you have to keep two things in mind: First it is a spare time project. Second it was fun to play after about a year. We spent the last 4 years of adding to an existing game by releasing patches.

Ohloh has some nice statistics about commits: http://www.ohloh.net/p/stendhal/contributors

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    you haven't played Minecraft?!? it sucks some serious hours of my life – Spooks Dec 3 '10 at 16:36
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    I did not know about Stendhal. Thanks much. – Aliud Alius Dec 3 '10 at 17:14
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    Stendhal and the tech you used look pretty interesting. – Tim Holt Dec 8 '10 at 1:01

Star Trek Online was a core team of ~40-50 for two years. Kingdom of Loathing has had a dev team of about 5. Urban Dead is a one-man-show I think. How low do you want to go? STO is a AAA 3D game, so two years is almost unheard of. KoL and UD are both web-based, so I'm not sure what would be considered "surprising" other than hearing a game was developed by a sentient AI or somesuch. How about Minecraft, thats ~1-3 people and has now made millions (but is still technically alpha)?

I agree with some of the comments that it's unclear what would be considered surprising. There's a huge range of sizes of games that can be considered to be “MMOs”.

Realm of the Mad God was developed by 2 people in 30 days for the TIGSource Assemblee competition. The game was playable & fun, had lots of users, had an active forum, and had an active user-built wiki soon after the end of the 30 day period. They've continued working on it for the past year (new dungeons, monsters, items, classes, gameplay, etc.) and have had occasional help from others with art, music, sound, design. They don't usually release metrics but at one point they mentioned 1200 concurrent players and 37,000 players in one day. It's not “out of beta” yet but I think the core team will remain 2 people. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the “occasional help” set of people; they're using my maps.)

Here are two articles and a presentation on the idea of small MMOs that I absolutely love. Both offer great examples and great advice...

First is Boutique MMOs on The Escapist.

The second one is A Game Business Model: Learning from Touring Bands on DanC's Lost Garden blog.

Third is a presentation by NetDevil at GDC 2008 Small Teams Big Dreams. It was a great talk and I found myself nodding my head a lot when I was there.

Definitely read those articles. Both are fantastic reads for this topic.

Another thing to do that will help you better understand this realm of "successful MMOs nobody's heard of created by small teams" is go play them. Try them out and see what it is about them that makes them work. And with the developers eye, look at them and think about what it took the developer to create them.

Both in relation to the two articles I linked to and the comment about testing, lot of it comes down to what you define as an MMO, and what you define as success. If one has the "MMO means WoW" mindset, then you'll never be able to wrap your head around the idea of A Tail In The Desert as being an MMO, or a MUD for that matter.

In terms of how you define an MMO, if you as a developer have to create all the content for your users (write quests, storylines, other unique content), then it's going to take a lot of work. But if you let the user define the game (think MineCraft and sandbox style), then it's a lot different.

And success is (I think) looking at how much money are you making, how much it cost to make the game, and how many developers you have. If you have 2 developers with little upfront cost, then having $20k a month come in is not bad. If you have 100 developers and it cost you $50m to develop the game, it's another story.

If 30 people is small enough, Darkfall Online has necessitated 7 years of development for a non instanced MMOFPS which is able to have more than 5k people online at the same time.

Supposedly there are 8 developers working on Infinity: Quest for Earth http://www.infinity-universe.com/Infinity/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=114&Itemid=49

Its even more interesting that most of what you see is procedurally generated.

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    While that certainly is an interesting video, -1 since it hasn't shipped. – Tetrad Jan 9 '11 at 21:05

Tibia was wrote with only 4 developers (and one of them was only working in the website) as a student project.

From Wikipedia:

In 1995 the four German students Guido Lübke, Stephan Payer, Ulrich Schlott and Stephan Vogler worked for the first time on the online role-playing game Tibia, as a student’s project. To be contrary to the text-based games at that time, they wanted to design a graphical game which gives players a realistic view of the virtual world. Just two years later, in January 1997, the first version of "Tibia" went online on servers of the university.

Due to the huge success of Tibia, the four former students decided to found their own company. The year 2001 was the founding year of the CipSoft GmbH in Regensburg, Germany. Over 50 permanent employees and a dozen assistants work for CipSoft GmbH. In 2010, the company had an annual turnover of about 8 million Euro.

I was playing Tibia back in the 90's so I can give you more insights on how they managed to make this game with only 4 people.

The game was simple

Back in the 90's the game was very lame simple, there was no logging of who killed who, no protection zone, very simple spells, no safe way to trade item (you had to drop the item and the buyer drop the money).

While this "simpleness" looks more like "lameness" it actually made the gameplay fun. e.g.: since the server didn't log the player deaths, a killer could cover his tracks my throwing his victim body on a river.

The art was stolen borrowed

It was only a student project, so they took all the game art from Ultima VI and VII, as the game became more popular they started to replace the Ultima VI with they own artwork but even nowadays you can still notice a strong semblance in some items

The community

Although nowadays Tibia is power-gamer infested like any other MMORPG, in the "student project" days it was more a Role-player niche. This helped in the success of the game. Remember that this game was very simple, a power-gamer could easily abuse this lack of polish.

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